The Red Storm have started the Big East 0-2 once again, struggling to close out two games where the team was within striking distance of tying or winning. Fate is cruel, and sometimes, so are the bounces for the young squad.
Julian Champagnie has been strong and effective on the court. Which other players can the Red Storm count on? At this point, that is an open question.
Looking back: Stony Brook
On December 6th, St. John’s took on the Seawolves of Stony Brook. For the first 15 minutes the Seawolves held their own, taking a six point lead at 33-27. The last five minutes of the first half was the most ideal version of the current Red Storm. Pressure defense and fast-paced offense created a 22-2 run. Greg Williams, Jr. led the charge with two layups and two jumpers for nine points in the last four and a half minutes.
Williams continued his stellar play in the second half. His teammates assisted hitting him for open threes, which he nailed by taking his time, getting his feet set, and confidently shooting.
He finished the game with an impressive stat line: 21 points on 8/11 shooting, including 3/5 from three-point distance. Williams also had four rebounds, three assists and six steals.
Most impressive was the balanced scoring — and the fact that the Johnnies had 23 assists on their 33 field goals.
The Johnnies pressure defense did disrupt Stony Brook but, when the Seawolves played through their frontline, they had success.
Would this kind of game forecast struggles for the Red Storm against several teams with strong front lines. Would Arnaldo Toro, Josh Roberts and Isaih Moore step up to hold their own?
Looking back: Rider
Two days later St. John’s welcomed Rider in a hastily scheduled fill-in game. It was a game that was to be a final tune up prior to the Big East season. Rider, ranked below Stony Brook in the KenPom rankings, was a surprise. The Broncs played under control for most of the game, hitting 11/24 threes and leading the Red Storm late into the contest.
Greg Williams picked up two fouls in the first five minutes of the game and had to come out. Williams only played 19 minutes of the game and never got into offensive rhythm.
In the last 14 minutes after Rider led 53-43, Rider hit only 2/7 three-point shots, not counting an open three as time was running out.
The St. John’s defense tightened, playing less of the passing lanes and focused more on staying with assignments and eliminating the open threes that had been available. Rider was now forced to create openings and all attempts were made under pressure from a Red Storm defender.
This more disciplined defense clearly produced a positive outcome this night.
Looking back: Seton Hall
The first Big East game was a challenge for the Red Storm. The tall Seton Hall featured 7’ 2” Ike Obiagu and all-Big East candidate 6’ 11” Sandro Mamukelashvili. The Red Storm countered with 6’9” Josh Roberts (for four minutes), Isaih Moore (for nine minutes) and Arnoldo Toro (for 13 minutes). It was a difficult assignment.
Seton Hall opened up an early lead. With the Red Storm down by six, Rasheem Dunn entered the game for the first time since game one. It was apparent that he was ready to contribute, scoring 10 points in 16 minutes of play.
But on the other side, there was no stopping what can’t be stopped. Mamukelashvili asserted himself as a gifted wing. He ran the floor, hit threes and drove to the basket scoring with both hands.
The Johnnies tried all types of defense to slow him down on the way to a 32-point output. Little seemed to work, although 6’4” Dylan Addae-Wusu picked up the assignment in the last few minutes of the game and was able to press him closely, making it more difficult for Mamukelashvili to receive passes from his teammates.
Seton Hall built a 12-point lead early in the second half, but the Red Storm kept battling behind Julian Champagnie and Greg Williams. With 2:25 to play and down by just five points Posh Alexander took down an offensive rebound and passed to Vince Cole for a wide open three from the right wing. Unfortunately, Cole missed the shot.
It then became a foul game and, although Pirate players kept making one of two foul shots giving the Red Storm a chance to catch up, one basket apiece by Cole, Williams and Champagnie was not enough and the Johnnies succumbed to the Hall 77-68.
Rasheem Dunn was, indeed, back and a boost to the offense.
Julian Campagnie battled almost to a draw with Mamukelashvili. The significant difference was Mamukelashvili’s ability to hit outside threes; Champagnie was unsuccessful in his attempts from long distance.
The Johnnies three-point shooting as a whole is unpredictable. After hitting 40% against Stony Brook, the Johnnies hit only 4/21 attempts (19%) against the Hall. In previous games the Red Storm attempted to work off the high post and dish out to open shooters on the wings. However, this type ball movement was infrequent against Seton Hall.
Although Dylan Addae-Wusu was not hitting his threes, he still contributed with six assists and five rebounds. He also was the only person slowing down Mamukelashvili, despite giving away seven inches to the Seton Hall star.
On a team desperate for offense, however, someone has to extend the defense.
Looking back: Georgetown
The Red Storm’s second Big East game was away against the Hoyas of Georgetown. The Hoyas featured another tall player, 6’11” Qudus Wahab.
This time Isaiah Moore got the assignment. When Wahab positioned himself under the basket and received a pass from his teammates, he was unstoppable early, eventually scoring 17 points to go along with his 10 rebounds and nine blocked shots.
Moore was able to work around Wahab and other Hoya forwards for 26 points of his own, while pulling down 14 rebounds in 32 minutes of play.
Like the Seton Hall game, the Red Storm fell behind early and had to fight their way back into the game. The Johnnies went ahead at the 10:40 mark on a long, off-the-backboard three pointer by Addae-Wusu, leading 23-21. Arnaldo Toro had a productive six minutes in the first half, hauling down four rebounds and scoring on a put back. The remainder of the half was back and forth, ending with the Hoyas ahead 42-40 at the half.
The Hoyas were playing an inside out game. When the ball went deep into Wahab, Johnnies guards collapsed to help Moore and Champagnie neutralize him. There were times the strategy turnovers but more frequently, if Wahab did not score, the ball would rotate to an open Hoya on a wing or corner for an open three.
After halftime adjustments by the Red Storm took away many of the open three-point attempts. The Johnnies found Moore underneath for dunks and Dunn and Earlington contributed. The Johnnies were up by seven with 11:30 to play. Then a Dunn foul on a made three-point attempt turned into a four-point play and the lead was down to three.
The Johnnies lead went back to seven on a Williams layup... but then careless play set in. Shortly after the Williams score, Alexander fouled Dante Harris as he crossed over the midcourt line. Hardly any time went off the clock and, after Harris made both free throws, the lead was at five.
In a sequence of plays reminiscent of the end of the Boston College game, first Moore threw the ball into the hands of a Hoya as he attempted to inbound the ball quickly; then Cole did the same with with 1:51 to play. Both turnovers were converted into scores and the game was suddenly tied, then went into overtime.
It remained tied at the end of the half and, in overtime, the Red Storm pulled ahead by three with 1:56 to play. After a Hoya score Alexander missed an open three and the Hoyas took the lead on two free throws. A Cole missed three and two more free throws left the Red Storm down by three.
Williams was purposely fouled with six seconds to play. He made the first shot but missed the second. Moore hit the offensive boards for the rebound but instead of putting the ball back up immediately, took a dribble which gave Wahab a chance to get into position to block his effort at tying the game from two feet away.
The team continues to shoot poorly from three point distance, this game hitting 4/13, or 31%. The Hoyas made 48 percent of their shots. And though the Red Storm created 17 turnovers, the Johnnies allowed Georgetown to convert on 54% of their field goal attempts.
The Johnnies were converting on drives to the basket, even with Wahab blocking nine shots. But balance was needed from the outside and, except for Earlington’s 2/3 from deep, no one else was hitting. The fact that the team took the game into overtime with only four made threes (Georgetown connected on 11) was a testament to the team’s grit.
Isaih Moore demonstrated a productive game against a tall opponent. He demonstrated a quickness that, most of the time, allowed him to beat Hoya frontline players for dunks and easy put backs. The Red Storm players, noting his performance, were successful in feeding him for opportunities to score.
The team has played four games in the last eight days. In the two away losses the Johnnies played competitively, but there are issues to be addressed. The Johnnies have a short breather before tomorrow’s home game against eighth ranked Creighton.
Being back home, but without fans, is a benefit but not the same as having the fans present. The growing number of fans with images in the stands may be heartening to the team.
The team could learn from what happened to them against Boston College and Georgetown when their opponents went into a full court press. It unnerved the Johnnies who, despite running pressure defense, struggle to break the press.
The team could also benefit with continuing their efforts to include a high post game. Passing out of the post to wing shooters may open up more shots; several Johnnies seem to shoot better with feet set rather than off of pull up jumpers (like most players).
The team ended last year leading Creighton at the half in an empty Madison Square Garden. Perhaps a repeat is in store for this coming Thursday . A win over a top-10 ranked team would do a lot for the team’s confidence.